Jeff Barbee February 24, 2009 22:01Updated May 30, 2010 11:36
To kill an elephant
South Africa struggles to manage a burgeoning elephant population.
The population of elephants in southern Africa is growing so rapidly that South Africa is considering killing several thousand in order to keep the numbers at a manageable size. (Jeffrey Barbee/GlobalPost)
KRUGER NATIONAL PARK, South Africa – Smelly is a 27-year-old elephant, the mother of a healthy 17-month-old baby boy named Stinky. She spends most of her day foraging for food and breast-feeding her rambunctious boy.
Should Smelly and her son be killed? South Africa may soon begin shooting thousands of elephants because their game parks have too many elephants. Smelly is not actually at risk, because she is in a private game reserve, but many elephants like her are under threat.
Too many elephants? Over the past 150 years ivory hunters have ruthlessly killed the world’s largest land mammals for their ivory tusks. Between 1979 and 1989 Africa’s elephant population plummeted from 1.3 million to 750,000, largely due to illegal poaching. But since 1989 the international ban on ivory sales in has helped Africa’s elephant populations to rebound.
South Africa’s elephants were nearly hunted to extinction in 1900, but now the population has grown to more than 20,000.
(Click here for a piece Jeff Barbee produced last year on the African trade in elephant ivory)
Kruger National Park is South Africa's main wildlife sanctuary and it sprawls over 7,300 square miles in northeastern South Africa. The park can only support 7,000 elephants, according to officials, but currently double that amount live in Kruger and the population is growing at an annual rate of more than 5 percent.
The elephants damage the park by pulling up too many of its trees and shrubs that are important fodder for other wildlife as well as elephants. Elephants are the earth’s biggest vegetarians, ranging in weight from four to seven tons, and they spend 16 hours a day foraging for the 300 to 600 pounds of grass, shrubs and branches that they eat daily. They need to drink about 50 gallons of water a day.
To see hungry elephants uprooting up bushes and stripping trees of branches, it is easy to understand how they can seriously harm a confined environment. Elephants have no predators and they can turn lush woodlands to a plain of stubs in a few years. Deforestation caused by the elephants is causing soil erosion and other degradation, say park officials.
South African parks officials announced in 2008 that they will begin killing 5,000 “excess” elephants. Although the government said it will consider moving the elephants to other countries and using birth control in addition to the killing, animal rights activists fear that the killing could begin soon.
Elephants are highly intelligent, considered to be as smart as humans and apes and dolphins, and they maintain close-knit societies based on maternal herds that raise young elephants. The elephants exhibit considerable emotions including happiness, humor, anger and grief. Elephants mourn the deaths of members of their herd, often by gathering in a circle and placing items around the corpse.
In a brutal logic, parks officials say it is more humane to kill entire herds rather than to kill some and leave others as grieving or furious survivors. The culling is organized with military precision in which herds of 20 or more elephants are rounded together by helicopters and jeeps and then all are shot dead.
In addition to the parks being overcrowded with elephants, people in the rural areas near the parks also complain that marauding elephants ruin their crops and often kill people who try to chase them away from their fields.
South Africa “has recognized the need the maintain culling as a management option, but has taken steps to ensure that this will be the option of last resort that is acceptable only under strict conditions,” said environment minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk in February. “The issue of population management has been devilishly complex and we would like to think that we have come up with a framework that is acceptable to the majority of South Africans.”
Animal rights groups insist that all other possible solution should be exhausted before any elephants are killed.
“All available options must be available to control the elephant population here and conserve the biodiversity of the national parks,” said Rob Little, conservation director in South Africa for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). “The new government framework imposes a hierarchy of choices, and culling is right at the bottom. We are not going to see a mass destruction of elephants here.”
Culled from more than 100,000 submissions, these photos represent the best in photojournalism from the past year.
Wpp 01 paul hansen
Nov. 20, 2012, Gaza City, Palestinian Territories: 2-year-old Suhaib Hijazi and his older brother Muhammad were killed when their house was destroyed by an Israeli missile strike. Their father, Fouad, was also killed and their mother was put in intensive care. Fouad’s brothers carry his children to the mosque for the burial ceremony as his body is carried behind on a stretcher.
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Wpp 02 emin ozmen
July 31, 2012, Aleppo, Syria: Opposition fighters regularly launched operations to seize government informants after dark. Two informants were captured, declared guilty under interrogation, and tortured throughout the night; tired soldiers had to be replaced so the torture could continue. After 48 hours, the captives were released.
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Wpp 03 fabio bucciarelli
Oct. 10, 2012, Aleppo, Syria: A Free Syrian Army fighter takes position during the clashes against Syrian government forces in Sulemain Halabi district in Aleppo.
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Wpp 04 rodrigo abd
March 10, 2012, Idib, Syria: Aida cries while recovering from severe injuries she received when her house was shelled by the Syrian Army. Her husband and two children were fatally wounded during the shelling.
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Wpp 05 daniel berehulak
March 7, 2012, Rikuzentakata, Japan: Pine trees uprooted during the tsunami lay strewn over the beach. One year later, areas of Japan most impacted by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that left 15,848 dead and 3,305 missing, continue to struggle. Thousands of people remain living in temporary dwellings. The government faces an uphill battle with the need to dispose of rubble as it works to rebuild economies and livelihoods.
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Wpp 06 wei seng chen
Feb. 12, 2012, Batu Sangkar, West Sumatra, Indonesia: A jockey, his feet stepped into a harness strapped to the bulls and clutching their tails, shows relief and joy at the end of a dangerous run across rice fields. The Pacu Jawi (bull race) is a popular competition at the end of harvest season keenly contested between villages.
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Wpp 08 jan grarup
Feb. 21, 2012, Mogadishu, Somalia: The Somali basketball association pays armed guards to watch over and protect Suweys and her team when they play. In Mogadishu, the war-torn capital of Somalia, young women risk their lives to play basketball. Suweys, the 19-year-old captain of a women's basketball team, and her friends defy radical Islamist views on women’s rights.
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Wpp 09 micah albert
Apr. 3, 2012, Nairobi, Kenya: Pausing in the rain, a woman working as a trash picker at the 30-acre dump, which literally spills into households of 1 million people living in nearby slums, wishes she had more time to look at the books she comes across. She even likes the industrial parts catalogs. “It gives me something else to do in the day besides picking [trash],” she said.
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Wpp 10 maika elan
June 22, 2012, Da Nang, Vietnam: Phan Thi Thuy Vy and Dang Thi Bich Bay, who have been together for one year, watch television to relax after studying at school. Vietnam has historically been unwelcoming to same-sex relationships. But its Communist government is considering recognizing same-sex marriage, a move that would make it the first Asian country to do so, despite past human rights issues and a long-standing stigma.
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Wpp 11 soren bidstrup
July 8, 2012, Jeselo, Italy: A family prepares to go camping on a summer holiday, but someone is up too early.
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Wpp 12 fausto podavini
June 1, 2010, Rome, Italy: Despite her husband's life-threatening disease, Mirella devoted her life to assisting Luigi, trying to be positive and reassuring, looking after him with intense love and respect. Mirella, 71, spent 43 years of her life with the only person she loved, with all of life's difficulties, laughter, and beautiful moments. But over the last six years things changed: Mirella lived with her husband Luigi’s illness, Alzheimer’s, and devoted her life to him as his caregiver.
- [Fausto Podavini, Italy/Courtesy]
Wpp 14 ananda van der pluijm
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Wpp 17 christian ziegler
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- [Christian Ziegler, Germany, National Geographic Magazine/Courtesy]
Wpp 18 paul nicklen
Nov. 18, 2011, Ross Sea, Antarctica: New science shows that Emperor Penguins are capable of tripling their swimming speed by releasing millions of bubbles from their feathers. These bubbles reduce the friction between their feathers and the icy seawater, allowing them to accelerate in the water. They use speeds of up to 30 kilometers per hour to avoid leopard seals and to launch themselves up onto the ice.
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